Skip to main content

Photography in design

Chris Harman says...

1. Do - Save bad photography

Sometimes you're presented with bad photography for a design project, which is usually a hindrance to your final design. I find that creating monotone/duotone versions of photos can help turn a bad image into something a lot more useable.

For an interesting visual twist on this, save the image as a one - or two - colour GIF for a really nice dot-matrix effect.

2. Don't - Stop at Brightness and Contrast

Brightness and Contrast tools are often the only adjustments that designers make when looking to enhance the colours and sharpness of an image. Accompany this with the use of the Smart Sharpen tool to add definition and depth.

James Kape says...

3. Do - Let it breathe

For me, one of the most important elements to consider when working with photography in design is the appropriate use of white space. There should always be some room left on the page to avoid your work becoming cluttered.

Whilst it might seem obvious, sometimes it can be the hardest element to conquer.

4. Don't - Over-think it

Selecting which shot you should use can often be the most time-consuming stage within your process, especially when you might have upwards of 100 seemingly identical photos to choose from.

Try not to spend hours deliberating: often your first thoughts are the ones that make the most sense.

Mauricio Guillen says...

5. Do - Let it go in order to punch it up

When using a picture as the background of your layout, try to lose details: go darker, go blurry and your fonts and design will jump out and have much more impact.

Your image won't suffer if you're subtle, because the reader's brain makes up for the details that are missing.

6. Don't - Assume the basics

Always be sure to check the resolution of your images when working with photography in design. New photographers think that in the digital world everything is done on automatic. It's not.

If at all possible, try to talk to the photographer in advance to ensure that you're both on the same page as far as the technicalities go.

Ingrid Jones says...

7. Do - Sketch out, then step away

When I have layout work to do that involves photography and text, I'll start with a few preliminary sketches of how I envision the page to look with the elements.

Then I walk away from the project and go out in search of inspiration. It could be a museum, gallery, book store, or wherever there is visual work that piques my interest. I give myself a chance to get excited about the layout, then begin.

8. Don't - Go for shock value

Photography has an emotional component to it, so select images that make you pause - not for shock value necessarily, but because they connect to your theme or story.

I usually do two or three different versions of a layout before getting to the look and feel I'm after. The trick is not to over-design. Edit yourself, and remember KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Michael Johnson says...

9. Do - Know the limits

Well, we'd love to be able to crop images more than we can, but sometimes there are copyright restrictions on cropping works of art.

When we can we'll look for the best, tightest and most powerful crops. But with a Picasso, you can't crop at all.

10. Don't - Forget your glue

When you have multiple images in a single layout, you have to keep searching for a way for them to work together, or you'll have to try and bring in other elements.

When you're dealing with disparate 'art' style imagery, the other elements (symbols, typefaces, colours and so on) become really important as visual glue.

Pablo Mandel says...

11. Do - Blow up

If the client doesn't have an in-house marketing department, you'll probably need to spend a lot of time looking for right-sized images, helping them search their archives, invest in software to enlarge images without losing quality.

I use Genuine Fractals: if the image is great quality, this software will enable you to do huge enlargements with acceptable results.

12. Don't - Confuse the eye

When working with architectural images, for example, design - wise it makes sense not to put day and night shots together as it confuses the reader - unless you're comparing the same view of the building during night and day, of course.

John Kariolis says...

13. Do - Be bold

Be creative with images that are not of a very high-resolution, or have been poorly shot. Edit, crop, manipulate or convert to black-and-white (or duotone) any images that are not of desired quality.

And print your layouts out at full size: you can't always guarantee that what looks good on-screen will look good on the page.

14. Don't - Be too hasty

Don't start designing until you have all the imagery you know you'll be using. The quality, size and subject may well dictate the design direction as a whole.

Similarly, try to avoid cropping an image in Photoshop before placing it into your design. If you use InDesign to crop the image, it's a lot easier to tailor it on the fly to suit the design as it progresses.

Dave Garavin says...

15. Do - Go on shoots

Good photographers make the designer's job easy, but if the photos are going to be combined with type later, it's always good to be at the shoot to really get what you need.

Why? Great photos with no space for text, or where the text fights with the image, do not generally make for great design. Also, there are generally hotties at the shoot.

16. Don't - Be inflexible

We often use grids for our designs, but sometimes photos demand their own individual space. Break the grid. Also, do not get caught looking at the hotties at the shoot.

Jamie Morgan says...

17. Do - Have an opinion

As a photographer, I find a really good art director will help me pick the right image - one that has the right form and shape for the design. It might not be the best photograph from my point of view, but it's best for the job.

It fits their vision. There are always five or six choices, and it's a matter of opinion about which one works best - and a good art director will always have a very strong opinion.

18. Don't - Skimp on the photographer's brief

If my art director has a layout in mind, I work my stuff around it. There are lots of practical things to take into consideration, such as the right cropping and so on.

If there's going to be a lot of type, you can't have a busy background, or if it's for a DPS, you have to make sure the subject is on one side of the spread. I need to know all of that in advance.

David Calderley says...

19. Do - Adapt and overcome

When working for some of the smaller independent record labels, you can be faced with the unexpected introduction of the 'press shots'.

Here's a way of unifying said shots: once you've done your surgery and retouching, create a duotone with black and a light PMS grey.

Take most of the black out of the lighter tones and increase it in darker areas, and then save the preset in case you need any more further down the line.

20. Don't - Leave it at that

Take your duotone images and convert them to CMYK, finally adding just a small amount of noise to imitate film grain.

You now have a wonderful four-colour B/W-looking print that complements your other graphics, and can be applied to different shots taken by different photographers, making them seem like they're all from a single shoot.

Xavier Erni says...

21. Do - Learn the rules

You need to know, for example, that monotype fonts are less readable on images than serif or sans-serif typefaces. If you use monotype for long texts your design will be less readable, so if you do it, make sure that's the effect you're going for.

22. Don't - Stick to them too tightly

In Swiss graphic design, the rules and grids are often very strict. Trying constantly to comply with these rules can make design a bit monotonous and you don't want that.

You must know how to be creative in bypassing the rules sometimes. Like using huge type on an image to make the image unreadable.

And that's it for now! Did you find this useful? Let us know your thoughts in the comments box below.

This feature was originally published in Computer Arts Projects issue 146